A clear taste of Christmas
The Franklin Fountain's owners have bought Shane's Candies and are reviving a sweet tradition.
The curving bay windows are still papered over at Shane's Candies, a century old in Old City, tucked between Front and Second on Market.
Only months ago it appeared the venerable place might go out of business entirely, the Shane family's next generation having found other pursuits more to its liking.
But the Berley brothers, Ryan and Eric, who run the vintage Franklin Fountain ice cream parlor a few doors up, swooped in, bought the deteriorating store, and have been scrupulously restoring its old glass display cases, carved moldings, and marble counters.
For this they might have expected thanks. And there have been some. But since the Shane's phone line rings at Franklin Fountain now, they've gotten a fair share of disgruntlement and complaint: How could they not have the shop open for Christmas? For mothers and grandmothers in Fairmount and aunts and uncles in the Northeast and godchildren and daughters who've moved to California, a box with Shane's printed on it was Christmas. And it wasn't Christmas without it!
Ryan was telling the tale ruefully last week, fresh from a candy-cane-making lesson in Merchantville. Why, he asked, should he be cast as a Grinch when without the Berley rescue Shane's wouldn't be closed just for the season - but for all time?
Already, its wood floors have been refinished and the entry set with Mercer tiles. The old display cases have been fitted with bottom mirrors to reflect up, their frames repaired and painted the original chocolate brown. The mahogany moldings have had a fresh coat of French vanilla.
Later this winter - by Valentine's Day, maybe; by Easter, pretty certainly - Shane's will reopen its doors, its signature buttercreams made meticulously by hand (as pastry chef Davina Soondrum was practicing the other day, scooping half moons of doughy fondant with an oversize melon-baller).
At first, some of the other chocolate pieces may be imported from other family candy-makers in Philadelphia, and from New Jersey.
The small-batch ice cream for Franklin Fountain will also be made here, in the back of the shop, the churners and whatnot on their way in from Northern Liberties last week.
But it was the activity that was out of sight - up on the second-floor candy loft in a space glinting with great copper kettles, rope-drawn dumbwaiters, and long marble workbenches - where the Berleys were keeping alive another tradition that still is Christmas, at least for a sizable local alumni association of former children.
In sharp-spouted pots fixed to long wood handles (and, in one case, the shank of an old baseball bat), their workers - Soondrum chief among them - boil simple granulated sugar, water, and corn syrup to pour into vintage molds: These are the latest crop of clear toys.
The antique molds date to Victorian days, and they, too, might have been lost but for the Berleys: They bought them at auction when the legendary candy-maker Harry Young died and his storefront on Girard Avenue was closed.
A small alloy-and-cast-aluminum regiment of them was standing by on the marble workbench one day last week. There were an ocean liner and a clapboard rowboat, an elephant, stern cannons and roosters and a silent cat, a locomotive and a sailing ship and a fire pumper from the times when horsepower was literal.
Each half of the mold would soon be brushed inside with olive oil, then clamped together with rubber bands, its gullet poured full with scalding sugar syrup. It takes only minutes for the candy menagerie to harden, "their hides smooth as glass," as Jeff Heinbach, the staff poet, put it in his paean to the toys.
Wintry sun filtered in the loft windows, backlighting the finished product, making the antlered reindeer glow from within like emeralds.
Soon they would migrate to the cases at nearby Franklin Fountain. But for the moment at Shane's they looked at home, surveying the scene, each one a promise that Christmas will be back here again, and again, even if they are themselves unlikely to last out the season.
The Franklin Fountain
116 Market St.